2019 Thames Path 100 – Dealing with my First DNF

Us with Centurion RD – James Elson

Last Saturday I lined up at the start for my third 100 mile race. It was the Centurion Thames Path 100 which was a new course for me. This 100 miler was going to be very different compared to previous races. The TP100 is a very flat and runable route from London to Oxford. Unfortunately, I dropped out at the Streatly check point, shortly after 70 miles. It was my first DNF in a race. I’d contemplated it happening at some point as so many things can happen in 100 mile races. What I hadn’t thought much about was how it would affect me. It hit me really hard just a couple of days after the race once the dust had settled. I ended up asking myself so many questions over the next week. Do I have the strength of character finish these events? Surely I do, I mean – I’d done it before and got through some very rough patches? How was this any different and why did I need to stop at the time? Could I have just carried on – I mean, I feel fine now? The questions went on and on inside my mind.

 

 

 

Thames Path does have some amazing views all through the route

Now that enough time has passed and I’ve processed events to death in my head I can safely look back on it as a lesson and with a sort of smile too This was a huge learning experience. The only missing item in my life is that finish line experience and medal. Everything else I still have – the training, the experience, the friends –  but that is now driving me on to want the next race finish even more. I’ve entered three big events this year and to start with a DNF isn’t ideal but it does mean that I go into Grand Union with more drive and experience. Grand Union was meant to be my race this year with the question marks around it because it’s the longest distance I’ve attempted, but there’s a bit more pressure now to finish, or at least get the hundred miles out of it. Obviously I want the finish badly. Dealing with failure to reach the finish line in a race has been a real struggle but an interesting experience in itself. Those questions I wrote above just kept circling around my head like birds flying over a dying animal. The thought swooped down and kept pecking at me. I’m glad I managed to shake that all off. With time it goes away. So, I’ve changed the acronym DNF to – Do Not Forget, or Did Not Fail. Yep, I can do that if I want to. 1 – I will not forget the event and next time I end up running a flat course and through cold temperatures I will be coming with more experience. And 2 – I didn’t really fail anyone else or myself. I still tried my best and I will be back next year to try again.

 

So how did the weekend and the race go and where did the wheels come off?

 

Lift from Lisa to the station – good luck boys!

 

I have a reputation for booking crap hotels. This time however, the opposite!

Jason and I travelled up together in usual pre-100 miler fashion. We spent a night in the Novatel Hotel just north of the start. My favourite part of the race preparation is staying in hotels. Love it. We had a good night sleep apart from having to call reception for the room next door who seemed to start to have a party after 22:00. What party poopers we are! I had a better night sleep than I have done in the past before these long events. We got ready and did our normal morning routine. A quick taxi to the start line and registration and kit checks all happened easily and we were good to go. It was great bumping into Matt, Louise, Lee, Ian and seeing a lot of recognisable Centurion family faces. James, Nici and even Dan who I’d spoken to but never met in person before. There was a fantastic vibe all morning and was great to stand around outside in the sunshine. There was a chill in the air when the sun was covered by the cloud but a beautiful morning by the river indeed. Stuart and Ross were out snapping photos and it was lovely to see them both again after the SDW50 a few weeks back. Before long, James was going through all the race briefing details…. and it was quite a funny one too! Then Dan hit the horn and we were off.

 

 

 

Great to see Ian at the start of the race

We probably started too quickly (wow, never heard that one before!), but about two miles into the race we took a wrong a turn and ended up missing the very first bridge! A large group of people were running ahead and there were lots of screams and shouting for people to turn back. So funny. Early on in the race it was ok to deal with that but what was funny was that we were running with a friend Russell who had done this course before and even volunteered as sweeper on the this section. He spent the next hour cursing himself and swearing about it. We couldn’t stop laughing. The Thames is actually really interesting while running. So many boat clubs and huge mansions that you could only dream of owning. Rowers doing their training sessions and families enjoying meals and wine in lovely boats. Time does fly by and it wasn’t long before we reached the first check points. Crisps …. coke …. and Tailwind refills done. Back onto the path. At one of the check points it started to absolutely chuck it down. The weather was really changeable during the day. We put our jackets on at that point and beyond that we ended up running through a storm and hail later too!

 

 

 

Stuart and Ross get to be in a photo!

It was during the mid thirties that I began to feel a bit ‘unwell’. I knew things weren’t going to plan in my stomach and energy levels were dipping really fast. I think Jason could tell as I was being a lot more quiet than usual. This is what happens when I start to feel sick. Still, I ran within myself and continued on, drinking when I could and eating bits along the way, although the Tailwind was not going down well. When we got to mile 51 we were so excited! Half way! Warmth and a change of clothes to pick us up. We were used to the course along the SDW100 when at half way you stop at a hall and have space and warmth to move around. When we approached the check point we realised it was a tent with not much room inside at all as everyone was hiding from the wind and rain. This really deflated my spirit. Completely my fault as I just assumed we’d be indoors. It was hard to change with not much room and absolutely freezing. All part of it though and probably my first lesson – know the course better and never expect any comfort because I will only be destined for disappointment. Always take a positive lesson 🙂

 

 

 

Finally get to meet Dan the man Lawson

After mile 51 it was a real slog for me. I was ok for a while but any prolonged periods of running were making me feel horrendous. My energy levels dipped so badly that I was having problems getting energy to talk properly and the nausea on top of it was horrible. Short walks were fine though. In the end I decided not to jeopardise Jasons race any longer and asked him to go ahead without me. It was hard to call to make, but with the goal of trying to get under 20 hours, it was time for him to go for it as he was running well and feeling good. It was also time to run my own race. Jason and I have done two of these before, plus a few other ultra races together. This was the first time we’ve had to separate. He was worried and really didn’t want to leave me however I convinced him it was the right thing to do. Eventually off he went (and ended up finishing well – what an awesome ultra running dude!). We kept in touch for the remainder of my race via text. I called my wife and kids when it got dark and had a little near tearful moment. I couldn’t believe this was happening. Any running was making me feel really ill. I felt heavier than usual and just couldn’t get any pace on. My throat was burning all day with the cold air as I’d had a head cold and cough which was still with me from mid week. I didn’t really factor that in at all but it may have contributed towards the bad day.

 

I reached the aid station before Streatly (can’t remember the name!). Relief – it it was indoors and warm! I was getting COLD now. I knew Jason had been in and out already and I kept hoping he was having a good run. It was getting freezing cold outside and now dark. I sat there for ages and the volunteers were great. Andy(?) I think was his name offered me some ginger biscuits which were great although I didn’t feel like them at first. Amazing how getting food and drink in you helps, even when you don’t think you want it. Lesson 2 – eat and drink and just take the things that you feel like you want. Roll with it (Ian offered me this advice after the race as his fueling plan had to change on route to jam sandwiches and Coke!). What kept me going at this point was the thought that a friend Michelle was waiting for me at Streatly. I just wanted to make it there. When I decided to get up and go I noticed Stephen from Film my Run who looked to be struggling a little bit like myself. I walked over and asked if it would be ok to go out together and try to get a few miles in side by side. This was a good idea for both of us as it was fresh conversation and we helped each other run some good 1 – 2k portions. Stephen eventually went off ahead as my nausea came back and when I got to Streatly ABSOLUTELY FROZEN, he was just leaving and looked like he was doing better.

 

This is where my race came to an end. It was so great to see my friend Michelle but I was in a bad way and not myself at all. Michelle was super charged up with all the goings on at the aid station, and was super supportive telling me that there was no way she was taking my number. Centurion volunteers will try their best to keep you going. I’d do the same. I just knew that with 8 miles to the next stop, I’d be in a whole load of trouble with the kit I was wearing as the cold was unbearable. I had not prepared for that level of cold at all, despite being told about it before hand and reading about in other blogs. I’d have ended up calling in I think and having to curl up in my space blanket. I couldn’t have got any colder. I had a base layer and t-shirt from the day running which was still a bit wet, with a wind proof jacket. It just wasn’t enough – even as three layers. My gloves which I thought were good enough were not either. My beanie wasn’t warm enough too. With the amount of walk breaks I’d had, I was trembling cold and feeling sick during the running bits. Not a great situation. Lesson 3 – get better kit and prepare for the cold! I’d never had to do this before with both previous 100 milers as it had been pretty warm on the SDW in June. My kit had been fine for winter training for a few hours at a time, but to be out there jogging slowly and walking as best I could was no longer possible. Handing in my number was so hard but at the same time I was in a dream like state of fatigue … even after being in the aid station for a while. I felt terrible but it was the best decision at the time. I’d have been a massive liability out there in the cold at 1am and could have ended up in my space blanket somewhere. Michelle kindly lent me a jacket and let me sit near an oven in the kitchen where I drifted in and out of a dream like state, trying to get warm leaning over a stove plate that was heating up beans. I spoke to a number of the kind volunteers there but really couldn’t do too much else. I was there for a good four hours or so until the van picked us up.

 

Jason just crossing the finish line

My good friend Colin drove up from Portsmouth when he saw my name crossed out on the results early that morning. He wanted to to pick Jason and I up so we didn’t have to get a train. What a super star. And such great timing to because he arrived at the finish in time to see Jason come through the end. It was nice to see Jason finish the run. I felt I had let him down earlier and was just so happy he’d powered through and got the sub 24 hour finish. It was such a relief to get a ride back home too, although once the sun was up I did wake up a bit more and felt much better. We were also treated to some food and drink offered by Dave from Portsmouth. Dave is another awesome ultra runner who will be joining me on the start line of Grand Union this year. Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone I spoke to on route, including supporters, runners and volunteers – you are all amazing. Centurion running – thank you as well for putting on this event and allowing us all to come and test ourselves. Thanks to my family for putting up with my early mornings too. I sacrifice my sleep to keep the weekend running mostly away from the family life, but it does mean missing out on time with my kids early morning when they get up. Running can be self serving and selfish in this respect but I do what I can to minimise the impact. Hopefully one day my children will enjoy taking part in an event with me whether it be running or crewing. I want them to see and experience this great sport and community first hand and if they like it I hope we can build some stories in the future together on the trails xxx

As always, thank you to Centurion again for putting on this event and looking after us through the process. The awesome runners, supporters and most importantly the volunteers – you are all amazing and I’m going to help at a 100 miler event in the future having now experienced a Centurion 50 mile day out volunteering. Thanks Jason for putting up with my energy issues and nausea during those mid stages. It seems these are almost a certainty for me in these events so I need to be better and managing them for sure. Here’s to some more of theses events in the future together. Thanks to Stuart and Ross for taking all the photos and going above and beyond that in the love and support they give us through the event. You guys are amazing.

 

And finally, as always, happy miles everyone! xxx

Volunteering at the South Downs Way 50 (The Other Side of the Aid Station!)

Just over a year ago, Jason and I crossed the finish line at the Centurion South Downs Way 100 in Eastbourne. Completely exhausted we all settled inside the sports centre building with a few other runners who were resting or tending to blisters and various things. During that time after the race, a Centurion Running volunteer by the name of Ian took such great care of us. He kept coming over and getting cups of tea and coffee and food. Not once, but many times. He was like an angel. He was super friendly and very attentive. I’ve crossed many finish lines in my time and never been treated as well as this. For those of you out there who have run Centurion races before will be familiar with this level of care. I swore after that weekend and writing my report that I’d do the same one day soon. So, this year I found myself on the volunteering list for the 2019 South Downs Way 50. I had no idea what to expect or what to do, but I had a good idea in my mind about how to treat the runners. All Centurion races I’ve done have been amazing in that respect and all of the volunteers are incredible. You’ll find the most supportive marshals at the aid stations who are full of life and energy and who all want to see you reach the finish.

 

 

Ready and waiting for the runners

I originally requested to help volunteer at Saddlescombe Farm for the SDW50 this year, but was assigned to Botolphs, which is the first aid station on route. Happy with that. For that reason I also requested to be volunteering at the finish area in Eastbourne too. Nici from Centurion was kind enough to let me do both. I wanted to make a whole day of it and give back as much time as I could. What a day it was! I started early. I woke up at 6am and got a bit of food inside me. I’d run 45 miles the day before and was limping with some foot pain. I didn’t eat much the day before after the long run, and had woken up numerous times that night not only panicking about not making the start, and also by my stomach rumbling. I was out the door just after 7am and on the road. An easy drive it was. I arrived with plenty of time to spare and parked up in Botolphs in a small roundabout just down the road from the aid station. I could see a van unloading and headed down. I met a couple of guys wearing red Centurion Crew hoodies. I’m crap at remembering names but we all introduced ourselves and I got stuck in helping out. Soon a few other volunteers arrived including a Hideo who I remember because he had to pronounce his name to so many people that day (like Video – but Hideo). We chatted a bit about races and it turns out he’s run both Hardrock and Western States, which is one of my dream races. Damn I thought – I’m with my tribe today! As always with runners, they were all lovely people and we formed a good team preparing all the tables with food and drink. Our station manager was Jamie who was a good leader that day. Nice and calm and knew what he was doing. I needed that for sure because I’m one of those people that require a bit of direction to get me going. Once I’m going though, there’s no stopping me. Next time I’ll be so much better informed and experienced.

 

I am now a three second sarnie master!

I was on sandwich duty. I had no idea how many to make. I was armed with peanut butter, jam, ham and cheese. There was bread and pita. A couple of us got going with those and we ended up cutting the sarnies into shapes to recognise the filling in case runners asked. The sandwich shape wasn’t my idea, but was brilliant! Bam – the tables were soon full and I had a bad case of immediate wrist pain from cutting cheese and spreading fillings. Before long the first runner came through. It was Ben Parkes. I’d watched many of his videos on YouTube and have followed his progress and training over the year. He recently ran a 2:25(?) Valencia marathon and had managed a 52 minute Great South Run. The dudes a good fast runner. I’d recommend checking out some of his videos for some training tips. Anyhow, back to sandwiches. After the first few runners came through we were expecting the masses to start trickling through and boy did that happen. I definitely would have made a load more if I had known how popular they were going to be. I did think to myself that it was only mile 11.2 and so not many would be eating at this point. I was frantically making food pretty much for an hour or so non stop. I’ve mastered the art of the three second jam sandwich, which evidently were ok for runners. The volunteers assigned to drinks were also really busy – filling and refilling bottle after bottle. It was a military operation for a while. I must admit, there was relief at the end, but also a lot of pleasure that everyone had got through the station bar just one runner who had to pull out there. He was ok.

 

Towards the tail end of the runners the table looked a bit more bare
First runner through with the glowing pink gloves – Ben Parkes

 

Finally made it to the right place. First time I’ve ever driven there. Usually come in on foot!

We packed up quickly and cleared the road side. Before long you could walk by and not even know that hundreds of hungry, thirsty and tired runners had gone through. Botolphs dream team were done and dusted. Quick goodbyes and it was off to Eastbourne. Hideo was heading there too after lunch, however he made it there before me. Must be my terrible slow driving and reliance on satellite navigation. I did end up in a Sainsbury’s car park instead of the finish area first, so took the opportunity to grab a sandwich, monster munch and a drink. Hoofed it down once I got to the finish area because things were already in motion preparing for the finish. It was so awesome being part of the set up and helping get everything ready. What’s weird is the idea when you are there that the race has already started and runners are reaching half way or further and you are still setting up the finish area – hold on a sec though, this is a 50 miler, not a 10k. Runners are out there for about 6 hours plus! We have plenty of time. It was great to meet Ian again and meet his other half Claire who was volunteering that day too. As mentioned above, Ian was the main reason I had come to try my hand at the volunteering thing.

 

 

 

An ocean of medals ready to be put around the necks of the awesome finishers

I was assigned the role of handing out finishers medals to the runners with another lady by the name of Laura. What was incredible was that it turned out Laura is also due to run the Grand Union Canal Race in May ! What were the chances of that? On top of that, we were volunteering with a load of other lively and enthusiastic runners at the finish line, one lady in particular Michelle, who had already run the GUCR too! We were both able to pick her brains with various questions. On top of that as well, I met a guy again who we shared a taxi with to the start line at last years SDW100,  Matt,  who was due to run GUCR this year but had to pull out due to injury. Incredible coincidence right there and very cool. We will all keep in touch and I look forward to see Laura on the start line of the race. So much nicer when you have people you recognise. I also know a few other people who are running GUCR from Portsmouth so I’m hoping to have a social start and potential race or at least a few miles of it.

 

 

 

 

Jas and family after coming through the finish

Back to the volunteering though. The finish line area was really good fun. It was great to see the first finishers come through. I’ve never really seen it all from that close up as usually I’m working my way through the races when this happens. Good to see that the top spot runners do actually get tired too, but still surprising just how fresh they look after a few minutes rest. Medals were being put around peoples necks and it was real good to just congratulate all them at the same time. These runners all put their heart and soul into their race. It truly is inspirational to see. There were happy looking finishers, sad looking finishers and finishers that just wanted to go home and others that balled their eyes out with relief and satisfaction. Some finished their final loop of the sports track with their children, including my friend and ultra wing man Jason. It was fantastic seeing him, although there wasn’t any real time to spend chatting. Finishers were coming through the whole day and so we just kept a good rhythm and pattern going for the whole time. The winner of the men’s race was Ben Parkes who I had been following on YouTube as I do a lot of training video watching. He’s had some great results recently and just keeps improving all the time. The female winner and now course record holder was Julia Davis who ran an amazing time and coming in under the 7 hour mark for the first time ever for a female runner on that 50 mile course. Just remarkable!

 

A speedy Ben Parkes finishing a hard race

 

Lots of new friends made at the run, including Michelle who has been kind to give loads of advice about GUCR as she has finished the race before. Awesomes!

We finished at 21:15, after seeing an amazing last few finishers come through. One lady who finished had attempted to complete a Centurion running event almost thirty times before, unsuccessfully, but this time with the help of a coach who had been training her for a few months, she managed to finish! That was a real special one and the talk of the race at the end. Just amazing determination shown. I spent about twenty minutes after the finisher were done helping take down tents and various things before I packed up and headed home. It was a relief to get into the car and be warm too as I didn’t quite realise how cold I had been standing outside all day. It took me a while to warm up. I got home at about midnight and cooked up a bowl of chips and cheese, and watched the finale of The Umbrella Academy season 1 on Netflix. Great way to finish a hard day on foot. I also counted the day as training, because the day was spent on my feet and the day before I had run around Portsmouth three times in a row to finish a 45 mile training run. Epic weekend! I highly recommend the volunteering thing. It’s such a good idea and a brilliant day out spending time with others who love to run. I’ve met some lovely new friends too and people I plan on running with in the future too. Spot on!

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely worth trying this for a day out and to get to see the other side of the aid station and organisation. It’s also so brilliant to see the effort put in by the runners and Centurion to make this event happen. Not everything went to plan on the day, especially with the finish area surprises this year where it seemed the centre had been double booked to a boxing event! All handled professionally by James, Nici and team. Well done Centurion! It’s eye opening to see the amount of work that goes into organising these events. Oh, and also – who does the washing up ???

 

Happy miles everyone!!! xxx

 

 

 

Training Update – Four Weeks to Go !

These posts seem to be coming around faster each time, so this one is late late late! With just about three weeks to go before Jason and I take on the Thames Path 100 miler (our third 100 together) , training is still going well and I’m still in a good place physically and mentally. I’ve managed to remain a lot calmer for this training build up over the past few months that I have done in previous years. I’ve been doing a heck of a lot of mileage and have probably done too much as usual but reigned it in where I’ve needed to, unlike other years. I’ve kept to the simple strategy I picked up in Jason Koop’s ultra training book which has been all around building up strength and fitness in the months leading up to an ultra, before then getting a bit more race specific and then training more like you plan to race. This includes training on race specific course profiles too. I’ve done a ton of running around Portsmouth and kept the hills to my shorter recovery runs during the week.

 

So month three kicked off with a race I had booked in with Whistle Events called the Batty Bimble.  It went very well. I’ve already written up a post report about it so no need to repeat myself but I managed to finish in second place with the same mileage as the winning runner, just a bit slower to cross the line. It was a day that had all runners experiencing horrible wind and rain pretty much through out the run. Great training, although I know for a fact I’d absolutely HATE to run a 100 miler in weather like that. It will happen one day I am sure. My feet were absolutely ruined after being wet for six hours straight in my extremely old Hoka ATR3’s which are barely held together with any material. I’m on a mission these days to use less gear, buy less new stuff, and use what I have for longer and so these trainers still have a good 1000 miles or more to go! No more unnecessary purchases or training gear for me unless it is up-cycled or I have no other choice and it’s something I need desperately. In this case, I probably could have suffered less with better trainers and I’d certainly not use them in the 100 miler unless it was definitely going to be dry. This race allowed me to get my training up to the 39 mile mark so extremely pleased that I managed to run most of that with a few short walks towards the end.

 

Alex and I waiting for a runner to come past

 

There was a ton of bad weather over this month which made training interesting. We’ve had some very high winds on the coast and a fair bit of rain. Some of the 30 mile training runs have been a case where I get cold, wet and dry – repeat. Still, I got them in and as mentioned above – all training is good training, whether it’s easy, hard, fun or not. I’ve made more use of my Inov-8 rain jacket which I purchased to meet the minimum kit requirements for my first 100 miler a couple of years back. Since then, apart from the SDW50 and SDW100 last year, it had mostly sat in my wardrobe. I started using it again at the end of last year and I have a whole new appreciation for good quality kit that actually does do the job. This jacket is great protection from much of the wind and rain during runs. Worth forking out some cash for quality products that last long, IF not available as an up-cycled item.

 

I’ve been able to test out nutrition a bit over month three too. To be honest, as I’ve written about before, nutrition is the impossible puzzle. Runners who chase the perfect nutrition plan will forever be chasing. Things change day to day, race to race and person to person. There is no exact configuration of food plan that will definitely get you to the finish line unscathed. Sometimes I’ve been lucky and got it right, but usually that’s just listening to the body and drawing upon the experience and knowledge gained through reading blogs like this, books and watching YouTube videos. This is why I believe that information is powerful, and I think exposing yourself to ALL forms of information is a good thing, so long as you try things out sensibly and find what works best for you. The more options you have through learning from each other, the better equipped you are. I did want to mention these really cool Guava squares another runner told me about last month. They are wrapped in a dried leaf (and initially plastic which you peel off), so you can store them in your bag and not worry about the rubbish. You can discard the leaf wherever. The fruit itself is really tasty however they are very sweet with the added sugar on top.  You can buy other forms of the Guava that come in rolls. I used to eat these in South Africa and they are delicious. I also tried the Naked flavour of Tailwind which is quite nice. It’s slightly less sweet than the flavoured ones I think. Probably going to try and use this during stuff during the Thames Path 100.

 

Two very pleased runners!

One thing that has surprised me this year, and I attribute it to more sleep, is the speed work I’ve managed to maintain. I built up speed in the beginning of my training block in January / February and expected it to drop off at some point as the really long runs started. But it’s all hung together quite nicely. I can’t run super fast for the 30+ miles however it certainly helps with the pace I run those at. I did a tempo run during this month which I hadn’t done for a while managed to get a surprisingly good (for me at least!) overall pace considering the hills in the run. I thought I was nowhere near this pace, but was really pleased. Seems just keeping up the intervals and threshold run sessions twice a week has worked. Not aiming to get faster, but just try to keep what I have worked towards.

 

 

 

Another note worthy update this month which has been really inspiring to see, is the level of improvement made by some of the runners at the work over the past few months, particularly a couple of friends Mat and Rob who have joined in with some of our monthly challenges. This month I had the honours of pacing Mat through to an amazing 5k PB. Rob joined in too and was paced by Bracken to an amazing new 5K PB. This was a tough run, but both Rob and Mat have made huge improvements in their speed and distance training. Such good fun to be a part of. The very best of motivational running!

 

 

 

And now it’s onto the last month of training, and also very excited to be volunteering at the Centurion South Downs Way 50. I plan to write up about my experiences there so hope to publish that some time in April. Best of luck with everyone coming up to their marathon races. I’ve seen so many people working so hard to achieve their goals. It’s been great reading and hearing about your experiences and lessons. So inspiring. Happy miles everyone! xxx

 

Running at Work

I’d like to share my story about running at work. I know many runners are not able to train during office hours due to various work schedules, travel or lack of facilities, but I have been really fortunate to be able to make use of my lunch times to do my regular weekly training (or ‘runching’ as it is sometimes known). Here’s my story about forming a strong running community at work, and how we manage our lunch time runs. There might be something to take away from it and for others to try out….

 

 

Some of the lovely hills we get to run through during lunch

A number of years ago I agreed to take a break away from my computer one lunch time as one of my managers had promised to take a couple of us out for a run. At the time I was barely a casual runner and only really running for a couple of months a year. I remember that run really well. We headed out along a quiet country side road in Winchester for a 5k. I found it utterly exhausting and extremely hilly (I didn’t realise what a real hill was back then). After that run I never ran again at work for quite some time. Not because I was put off by it – I enjoyed it, but I remained at my desk most lunch times, in front of my computer screen as I had done over many years. A comfortable routine. It’s so easy just to do that. I am sure many can relate to large portions of their working career spent doing this during lunch.

 

I don’t know how or why but about about a year later I found myself running another 5k around that same area during my lunch break. I was probably training for the Great South Run which at the time I raced casually each year. During that activity I encountered another runner who worked at the same place. He asked if I’d like to join him and go a bit further and as always, I agreed. That chance encounter has led to the most incredible growth of a healthy and happy running community at work. And here’s the tale of how it all happened and what we get up to each week.

 

Runners Assemble!

 

Russ and I just this year – 2019

My friend Russell was the runner who I met on route that day. It turned out he was a good runner and regular cyclist. Before long I was joining Russell and another runner Andy on some more runs and from there we occasionally were met by other solo runners passing by. It seemed there were other employees at work who were doing the same thing every lunch time. At work we use a number of useful social tools to keep in touch with each other. I reached out to Russell and we discussed forming a non official runners group which would be optional for people to join. We both thought it would be a great idea to have somewhere to advertise daily runs and routes so that people could opt into join in and run together.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo from one of our yearly trips up to Farley Monument

We created a social network channel and we ended up having over 100 people join. It was amazing how word quickly spread and people began being able to organise runs together. Each morning someone would put a post up stating an intended start time, route and pace and include any other useful details. Interested runners could receive notifications from these social network channels, and then post comments to ‘opt in’ so that the person who created the original post could see who to expect at the start of the run (and wait a few minutes if needed). If changes were made to any details, those who opted in would know via an update notification. It really helped keep runners motivated to get out and run at lunch. Start times varied depending on everyone’s calendar, and while some could make the advertised start times, later or earlier groups began forming and soon there were more than one option to go running each day. It worked really well and soon we all had a large and friendly network of runners. Good friendships formed from there and soon we were entering races together and training began to evolve and take on all sorts of various forms. Since then we have moved onto other social tools like Slack for example, which provides a real time chat server (similar to old mIRC channels for those ‘young’ enough to remember). Making the most of the social technology we have at work has been instrumental in making this work so well.

 

Structured Training Sessions?

 

Some runs involve a proper rinsing for anyone desiring such pleasures

Much of the running at work is social, meaning we all run together no matter what pace. Well, kind of. If runners want to go faster or want to add a bit more mileage to the run then we loop back or work out extended meeting points in the runs. But over the past years some more structured training weeks have emerged at work mainly because many have entered races or just want to run faster. A few of us in the group tend to keep up quite structured training patterns. These usually include a couple of days of intensity sessions which can take on the form of tempo runs, intervals of varying lengths and also threshold running sessions. The days differ from person to person however most of the time we try to find a small group who want some quality running.

 

We do not have a running track to make use of on site and so we have to rely on the roads. We have some flat portions of road near Winchester that we can go to, however anything over a 800 – 1200m and you need to include some small climbs, or be stepping out over drive ways or even resorting to running around some grassy fields instead. We are not short of hills where we work. If we want to do some of the fast sessions on hills we have a number to select from. Some favourites are infamous for their length and vert! One of the reasons I myself started more structured training was due to one of the social media like tools we all started using. A tool common to most runners and cyclists now, called Strava.

 

Enter Strava – Hello Segments!

 

Strava segments are always quite challenging and tiring

In order to heat things up a bit on some of our standard routes, we began creating a number of Strava segments in the area. For those who don’t know what those are, go and google it. We created so many segments around the area at work and many of those became targets for lunch time runs. I recall when I was still casually running at the time with the groups at work, that I started taking an interest in attempting some of these segment efforts and chasing my times to try and get a segment crown (become the fastest runner on the segment). In effect, what was happening was that our bodies were getting used to almost interval training efforts. We’d run two or three short to long segments in a run and go all out. Doing that for weeks really picked up the running and from there I remember myself becoming a lot more interested in attempting to get faster. Some of our most popular segments are here :

 

  1. See Sign Sprint to It – yep, one of the few I’ve managed to keep hold of ….. for now!
  2. Pig Farm to Crest – a spicy one requiring much speed, going slightly uphill for a fair amount of time.
  3. Climb Towards Farley Mount – an evil climb, end of!

 

Those summer months

We have a number of Strava groups/clubs set up now which include a global group spanning our company worldwide. It’s been really great chatting and following fellow employees and comparing some of the different work site photos and how everyone trains. We’ve also created more of a global Slack channel for runners all over the world to join and chat too. This sport is so social. I don’t think runners exist who don’t like to chat about running Do they?

 

 

 

Some of us runners at a trail marathon in 2017

We’ve since taken the Strava use at work to new heights. Some of the runners came up with an idea which is now called the Monthly Challenge, and here is how it works. Each month a runner will pick a route. This route can be short or long, and include hills, road, trails – whatever. There are only a few loose rules we give in that it can’t be too long, and it needs to start and finish within reasonable distance from work so that everyone can give it a good bash. That month runners head out whenever they want to see how fast they can run the segment. Some are easier than others and many have been really tough routes. The winner at the end of the month gets to pick the next monthly challenge route – that’s it! To keep it fair, if you have picked a route before you cannot pick one again until all runners have had a chance to pick. Naturally, this list is still being worked through and will take a while to come around, however there is also a yearly leader board that starts in January and ends in December. A points system similar to Formula 1 has been developed and it used to keep a table.

 

It’s been a fantastic way to motivate people to get out and improve. We’ve had a number of personal bests hit for runners who have really challenged themselves. This monthly challenge, mixed with the Strava segments and also the structured training is the perfect cooking pot for improvement. Here’s an example of a recent monthly challenge route – December 2018 Challenge

 

The Office Stinker?

 

Not here luckily! All these hard runs at lunch. All that sweat. We are also lucky to have a number of facilities at work to help keep us smelling fresh. We have about four different locations on site with showers, including a new state of the art gym area with great new showers. Some of these showers are in need of some tender loving care but they are functional and also apparently getting revamped very soon too! After some of our summer runs I think everyone else in the office is glad that we get to wash. Like, really glad.

 

Our awesome gym!

The gym I mentioned is another great bonus we get working at our site. It was a project taken on by some of the employees, led by runner Jon Tilt who happens to be a world champion track athlete for his age category. He knows his stuff and managed to get some really good equipment. He worked hard to get this new gym built and installed which also replaced a tired old gym which had been rotting away for years. Most of the equipment in that old gym had been loaned or donated. It was all in terrible condition and had no windows. The equipment and the space we are lucky enough to have now is amazing. We have the option to hit the treadmill if we so wish, or do some rowing or cycling or even strength training. It’s been a godsend for runners who have been injured and off of the running. We are all extremely lucky to have these and other facilities around site! I count my blessings each day.

 

 

A few years back now at the Compton 20 mile race

There have been so many healthy advantages to forming this lovely group at work. Firstly, it’s just so beneficial to escape the office environment for that hour between each of the half days. It really clears your mind, and perhaps not so much the legs and body sometimes! No really – I’ve found that I’m more awake during the day even after a hard session. I might not walk around as quickly but I’m definitely more alert. Another natural formation from these runs is the friendships. I would like to say I’ve made some great new friendships through running and get to speak and share stories with other people I may not necessarily have had the chance to normally. I’ve learned so much from our runs and had some really detailed discussions about everything from office issues and work all the way to alien life in the universe. When I run talking becomes a lot easier and conversation flows so easy. Lots of these friendships go beyond running and I’ve been lucky enough to get some great career advice and help on a number of issues.

 

Mental health is a big discussion topic these days. A lot of it is centred around talking to each other. A lot of the junk we keep inside has come out during running and it has been a great outlet for some of this ugly stuff that sits on your shoulders all day to come out. I think our work runs continue to be a great way to discuss things if ever needed. When you are out in the middle of the peaceful countryside, moving freely on foot and enjoying the air, it’s far simpler to lay a lot of these things on the table and discuss them.

 

One of my favourite summer runs to Shawford – run, swim, run back

Our running group became a bit of a focus when we had our health and well being week at work last year. We ended up putting a lot of the photos you’ve seen on this page onto a board which gave people a chance to see what we got up to each day. A few of us stood at a stall and were there to answer questions and try to encourage people to join in with us. We’re a very welcoming and inclusive group and offer a number of weekly ‘recovery’ runs where new runners can join us. They don’t have to run too far or fast for these and it’s a great way to get into it all. New runners to the area can turn back and easily navigate back to work – it’s not far. I must admit, it can be daunting seeing our discussions on the various social tools we use like Slack. We do get into some discussions at times about intervals and threshold sessions – bla bla bla. People probably shy away at times, but we’re always very welcoming and many of the runners are super supportive and willing to help others start their running journey by offering their time to discuss their own experiences with training, clothing, shoes etc. Such is like most of the running community around.

 

I’m always interested in hearing if others have similar groups at work? Do you work in the same way or have ways of competing with each other? If so, how about a cross-company challenge some time ?

 

Happy running everyone! xxx